The simple answer, as long as you want to. There are of course guidelines and recommended ages from different organizations. Knowing the recommendations can help in informed decision making, but ultimately it is up to you.
What are the recommendations? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding until six months then introducing solids while continuing to breastfeed a minimum of two years. The WHO recommends continuing after two years as long as it’s mutually desired. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for six months then introducing solids while continuing to nurse a minimum of one year. The AAP also recommends continuing as long as mutually desired.
Nursing beyond a year, is it really that common? Yes, many nursing relationships last beyond a year. In fact, the average age for weaning around the world is four years. In the United States the average age of weaning is much lower, but some mothers still nurse beyond a year.
I cannot or do not want to exclusively breastfeed, should I just wean? For a variety of reasons not all nursing mothers exclusively breastfeed. While nursing on demand is beneficial for maintaining a supply, some mothers breastfeed in part while using formula or donor milk.
Breastfeeding was going well but a few months into it we are having trouble. Is my baby ready to wean? Generally speaking, when an infant under one or two years refuses the breast it is often a nursing strike. If you want to continue breastfeeding, working with a lactation consultant can be very helpful. Lactation consultants offer support and education well beyond just the early weeks.
Breastfeeding is going well, when and how do I wean? Some moms decide when they are ready to wean and guide baby. In that case it is often recommended to drop one feed every few days to prevent engorgement. Other moms allow baby to decide when weaning should occur, this is known as self-weaning or child-led weaning.
Guidelines and recommendations are available to help in the decision making process but only you know the answer to, “how long?”